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Cat drinking water from a glass

The essentials

  • Due to their desert ancestry, cats don’t drink nearly as much water as dogs —  This is totally normal. However, cats can become dehydrated if they’re sick or something else is going on.
  • Water is an essential nutrient for keeping cats healthy and alive — It’s important to ensure your cat has access to fresh water at all times.
  • There are multiple ways to provide hydration for your cat — Not doing so may lead to or worsen urinary tract issues and kidney failure.

Cats are notorious for their stubborn and independent nature, and their drinking habits are no exception. Unlike dogs, who readily gulp down water after a walk or playtime, cats are more discreet about their hydration. It’s not uncommon for cat owners to rarely see their feline companions drink, leading to concerns about their well-being. However, this can be perfectly normal.

While a cat’s drinking habits are usually not a cause for concern, there are instances when encouraging them to drink more is crucial for their health. Cats with kidney disease, urinary tract issues, or those prone to dehydration for other reasons may require additional hydration to stay healthy.

That’s why you may have to get creative when getting them to drink up. There are plenty of tactics and techniques you can try, and most of them are easy.

1. Switch to canned food

Wet food isn’t just a special treat for your cat — it can be a key player in their hydration. Most canned foods contain between 78 and 82% water , giving your cat hydration without them even knowing it. In fact, one study on this topic found that when cats ate a wet food diet, their overall fluid intake increased even if they drank less water overall. If your cat does like wet food, you can also try putting a scoop on top of their kibble for a thirst-quenching boost.

2. Add water to your cat’s kibble

This suggestion is pretty straightforward. If, for whatever reason, your feline seems to steer clear of wet food, try moistening their favorite dry kibble with some water. In one go, it will provide them with both nutrition and hydration.

3. Clean their bowls daily

Just like humans, cats want to drink clean water. And because they can sometimes be messy eaters, food can easily build up around their feeding station. Make sure to clean their bowls and the area around them every day.

4. Refresh their water regularly

Cats are naturally active at night, so they don’t stop drinking water while you sleep. They also like drinking in quiet locations and might prefer to sip their water when the rest of the house is away. Water left in a bowl for too long can become contaminated with mold, giardia, and bacteria. Make sure to refresh their water regularly, including right before you go to bed and whenever you leave for the day.

5. Give your cat options

Every cat has their own preferences and tendencies, so learning what your cat likes best might be beneficial. One way to start is by trying out different bowls. For example, an easy-to-access elevated dish can be especially great for elderly kitties.
Another option is an angled, low-splash bowl that doesn’t tickle your cat’s whiskers.

Some cats also refuse to drink out of certain types of bowls altogether or even have an allergy to their water or food bowl . Others will always prefer a good old-fashioned water glass made for humans. If you find that true for your kitty, safely position a few around the house for them to nurse, making sure they can’t be knocked over and broken.

6.  Try a fountain (or two)

Cats often gravitate toward water mimicking a natural running source, which is why fountains work so well for them. (This is also why your cat might love sipping water from the faucet.) Batting at the bubbling spout is also a fun (and quite cute) activity for them. However, it’s important to note that these water fountains can quickly get dirty. Choose a model that’s dishwasher safe, easy to refill, and filters that are quick to obtain, like these stainless steel options from Petlibro.

7. Re-evaluate the location of your cat’s water bowl

As noted before, cats are particular and may just dislike the location of their water bowl. Sometimes, this is because it’s in a loud area of the house, while other times, their bowl could be too close to their litter box or food. Whatever the reason, try moving your cat’s bowl to a few locations to get a sense of what your cat likes most. Or put water bowls in multiple locations and see which one your cat prefers.

8. Keep the peace

Cats are also quite territorial and may have trouble sharing if you’re a multi-cat household. If you notice one of your cats drinks more often than another, there may be a power struggle at play. Give your cats designated spaces to drink away from other pets.

9. Give them an ice cube

Some cats like to lick ice cubes, which is a perfect (and sneaky) way to encourage your cat to drink more water. Plus, on sweltering days, ice cubes can be more than a fun thing for your cat to bat around — they make an ideal chilly treat.

10. Add some flavor

While this shouldn’t be a regular practice, a few drops of tuna juice or low-sodium chicken over your cat’s food can be a great way to sneak in some extra moisture into their diet. Just be sure to get tuna in water — not oil. In cases of dehydration, a bone broth topper or low-sodium chicken broth mixed with water could be another option, but it’s not something you’d want to give your pet regularly.

How to tell if your cat is dehydrated

Most cats can conserve some water and have a decreased drive to drink water based on their ancestors in the arid deserts of the Eastern Hemisphere. Most vets recommend that a normal, healthy cat drink about four ounces (about ½ cup) of water per five pounds of body weight per day. In some cases — usually in cats with underlying medical issues — that can cause them to become dehydrated.

👉 If your cat exhibits signs of dehydration, it’s important to take them to a vet for a physical exam as soon as possible. Cats can recover from dehydration if caught early.

  • Skin tent test. Gently hold up some of your cat’s loose skin on the back of the neck and then release it. The loose skin will instantly spring back to its original position in well-hydrated cats. The skin of a dehydrated cat will take longer to fall back into place and appear tented above the neck.
  • Tacky and dull gums. Check their gums if your cat lets you, and touch their gums. A well-hydrated cat’s gums should be pink and shiny. If your finger sticks to the gums, then the gums are tacky, which is a sign of dehydration.
  • Sunken eyes. A cat’s eyes will sink into their eye sockets when severely dehydrated.
  • Decreased food and water intake. If your cat hasn’t touched their food or water in over 24 hours, then dehydration is likely, and veterinary care is critical.
  • Changes in urinary output. Monitor your cat’s urinary output when you scoop the litter box daily. Any changes should be brought to your vet’s attention. If your cat is straining but not producing urine, this could indicate a life-threatening urinary obstruction.
  • Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea. If your cat has several episodes of vomiting or diarrhea in 24 hours, a vet visit is vital to determine the underlying cause. Ongoing vomiting and diarrhea cause a cat to lose bodily fluids, and they won’t be able to drink enough water to keep themselves hydrated.
  • Dry, hard stools. Cats with dry, hard bowel movements are often dehydrated and prone to constipation. Check your cat’s litter box daily to ensure their stools are moist and formed.

The dangers of not drinking enough water

Not drinking enough water isn’t good for most animals, but it poses special risks to felines. Some of the most common dangers include the following:

Dehydration. When cats become dehydrated, bodily functions can be impaired. Hydration contributes to their body temperature regulation, joint lubrication, food digestion, and the delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to their body. Signs of dehydration in cats include lethargy, weakness, poor appetite, dry mucous membranes, and, in more severe cases, sunken eyes.

Urinary tract infections. Cats that don’t drink enough water are ​​more likely to have concentrated urine that contains irritants, causing urinary tract infections. The more hydrated the cat, the more they can flush out infection-causing toxins.

Kidney and bladder stones. When a cat doesn’t urinate frequently enough, a buildup of minerals, such as calcium oxalate and struvite ,  can occur in the urinary tract, leading to bladder or kidney stones. These have the potential to cause pain, blockages, and other urinary issues, and often require surgery or medical management.

Increased risk of kidney disease. Just like us, when cats don’t drink enough, their kidneys have to work extra hard. This can lead to kidney problems later on, which we definitely don’t want! Making sure your kitty has plenty of fresh water all the time can help keep their kidneys happy and healthy.

Constipation. Not drinking enough water can also make it tough for cats to go to the bathroom. Keeping them hydrated helps everything move smoothly inside, so they feel comfortable and can avoid bigger health issues.

👉 Increased water consumption often indicates a medical condition, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. Alert your primary vet as soon as possible if your cat is suddenly drinking more water than usual.

A word to the wise: Get to know your cat’s habits

It’s important that you prioritize becoming familiar with your cat’s eating and drinking habits. Any decrease or increase in your pet’s thirst may be a sign of a medical condition, especially if it continues for several days. Take your cat to a veterinarian right away if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

👉 Cats can mask an illness for a while when they’re sick. If you notice a change in your cat’s behavior, eating or drinking habits, energy level, or urinary and fecal output, call your primary vet to schedule an appointment.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if my cat won’t drink water?

If your cat gets adequate hydration from their diet or elsewhere, you may not see them drinking water. If you are concerned, do everything you can to give your cat options — try multiple water bowls throughout the house, invest in a fountain, or even let your feline drink from the sink. If those tricks don’t work, increase the moisture in their diet by switching to wet food or topping their kibble with water. If you’ve tried everything and still have trouble getting your cat to drink, take them to a vet. They may recommend a liquid supplement, subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids, or a special food for cats with urinary issues to help encourage them to drink.

Can I give my cat water in a syringe?

If your cat is sick, your vet may suggest giving your cat water through a syringe. But never give food or water through a syringe without first speaking with your vet — it could lead to aspiration pneumonia. You should also never force your cat to drink, as this could cause them to have an aversion to water. If your cat is dehydrated and not drinking on their own, they will require veterinary care.

Why doesn’t my cat drink enough water?

Cats drink much less water than the average dog. This difference likely stems from cats’ roots as desert animals with little access to fresh water. This is why many cats need a little encouragement to drink.

How can I motivate my cat to drink more water?

Use all of the above tips, and if your cat drinks from a bowl, fill it up all the way. This will create ease of access for temperamental kitties. It will also help prevent their whiskers from touching the edges of the dish, which is a sensation they don’t tend to like.

What can I do to get my kitten to drink more water?

Switching from nursing to drinking water is sometimes a difficult adjustment for kittens. To help, it’s best to fill a shallow dish with water — one they can reach their tiny necks over. You can incorporate a bit of tuna juice to stimulate their senses when introducing them to water.